Magazine article University Business

The Study Abroad Provider Picture: A College President's Outlook on Why These Providers Shouldn't Be Painted with the Same Brush

Magazine article University Business

The Study Abroad Provider Picture: A College President's Outlook on Why These Providers Shouldn't Be Painted with the Same Brush

Article excerpt

AMERICAN COLLEGES AND universities are redoubling efforts to encourage student participation in study abroad and other cross-cultural experiences. In an increasingly global economy, and at a time when geopolitics make cross-cultural understanding more important than ever, the benefits for students immersing themselves in another culture are obvious.

It's a fact on the minds of educators and lawmakers alike. At the recommendation of the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program, Congress introduced the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act of 2007 (H.R. 1469). Once signed into law, the act will devote millions in federal funding to a national program that seeks to make study abroad the norm for undergraduate education.

Yet, as with student loans, study abroad programs have come under public scrutiny. A recent New York Times article questioned the arrangements colleges have with third-party providers, prompting New York state's attorney general to launch an investigation into study abroad practices. The principal concerns are that third-party providers drive up the cost of studying overseas and that colleges turn tidy profits on the programs and receive travel perks for faculty.

Those of us in higher education should welcome these types of inquiries. Let us not, however, be so quick to pass judgment and dismiss the advantages offered by the many reputable programs either.

My institution, Susquehanna University (Pa.), allows students to use their full financial aid (including institutional aid) toward study abroad. The result: study abroad remains affordable. This practice makes it unlikely for institutions to benefit from the programs. In fact, portable financial aid is a significant expense to Susquehanna. But we consider cross-cultural understanding central to preparing students to live in a diverse and interconnected world, so we deem it an appropriate, even vital, educational expense. And it's likely to increase in the coming years.

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Our newly approved central curriculum requires participation in cross-cultural experiences followed by reflective courses that help students incorporate the knowledge gained by these experiences into their fields of study, and ultimately their lives after college.

But why use third-party providers to help achieve this? …

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